Ever since it became obvious to supporters that Liverpool Football Club was “in the wrong hands” the arguments have raged about exactly whose fault it was.
Today, the club is still in the wrong hands. Today, the arguments rage about what kind of owner Kenny Huang might have been. Today, we’re talking in the past tense when discussing the man said to be fronting a bid that had the backing of China’s sovereign wealth fund. Huang pulled out of the sales process last night, clearly frustrated at the way he’d been treated.
This club has been at war with itself for three years. This war means all trust has gone. Not only will any potential bidder be instantly met with suspicion but also at times will anyone seen to have put their trust in that potential bidder.
And so with Huang’s withdrawal we’re all arguing about whether he left the process because he was badly treated or if it was because he never had a serious hope of taking over to start with. We’re arguing about whether he was right to expect Broughton to hurry the process along or if his impatience suggests he was never going to be a good owner.
And as we argued amongst ourselves our club’s owners no doubt raised a glass to each other over the phone, celebrating the fact that if a bidder pulls out it no longer matters how viable their proposal was. The risk he might have a viable bid – probably not to their liking but acceptable to the board – would have been causing them a great deal of panic.
It doesn’t matter to them if he was at the table to start with or not – just as long as he’s not at the table any more. Did anyone else on the board raise a glass at the news he’d withdrawn?
We’re being asked to trust a board that on the whole has done little to earn our trust.
We still aren’t certain how Martin Broughton or Christian Purslow came to be on the club’s board in the first place. We’re told they’re here for the good of the club, not the owners. For various reasons we are, of course, suspicious about that.
We temporarily put our suspicions to one side and suspended our doubts to give them time to get the sales process moving and new owners in place. We put our trust in them.
In return we continue to be treated like our views don’t count. We are constantly reminded that we’re not supporters, we’re customers. We’re not just customers, we’re loyal customers. Mugs even. No matter how hard they knock us down we keep getting back up and taking more.
Is our definition of what’s “best for the club” the same as theirs?
If it was they’d try harder to keep us informed, to ease our fears, to reassure us that they are striving to bring us what’s best for the club.
Ian Ayre said in an interview published by the Daily Post this week that “it’s our website which is the most important tool for the club outside the team itself”.
So why don’t the board use it more often?
If the board are happy that they have acted correctly in their dealings with Kenny Huang then why not tell us? If he’s not a credible bidder, if he’s not proved he has the backing, if he’s a long way short of being the “best” bidder and if his withdrawal was nothing for us to worry about then why not tell us? Why not pop into the club’s own TV studio to record a short interview telling us we don’t need to worry?
The bidding deadline has passed so what harm would it do to go on the record (instead of leaking it off the record) to tell us how many viable bids there are on the table? Is it because there aren’t any viable bids on the table? And were there any on the table yesterday morning?
The club deemed fit to release a statement a week ago. Christian Purslow was happy to go onto the radio to speak to a sympathetic journalist on Sunday. All week we’ve seen suggestions that senior officials at the club are briefing the media – off the record of course.
We know that if Kenny Huang’s offer was only as high as £400m that the owners would do all in their powers to block it. We know that it only takes one of the English members of the board to help them block it.
Last night’s statement from Huang and the lack of any word from the club has reminded many of us of the circumstances in which Martin Broughton arrived at the club.
There were claims that he had been brought in at the request of Hicks and Gillett through an old Hicks associate, Michael Klein. One report said at the time: “Klein goes back a long way with the Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks and is believed to have been instrumental in persuading RBS not to pull the plug on the club.” Another report claimed that Klein had “helped to secure Broughton’s services by approaching him on behalf of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool’s owners.”
And these reminders mean that our focus shifts away from how credible Kenny Huang’s bid might have been to questions about how credible the majority of the club’s board actually is.
Huang may well be out of this game – but Broughton isn’t. And it’s time he explained what’s really going on. Time he explained where his priorities and loyalties lie. Time he looked down from that seat in the director’s box and proved he was he man who could get us out of the wrong hands.